Be Wilder: Cases For Ecological Urbanism (Part 3 of 4)


Last week we explored some of the forces shaping our relationship to Nature.  Or rather “nature”, the culturally constructed category that is often hard to pin down.  These shared ideas about what nature is (and isn’t) are important because they tend to actively shape the way we think about and interact with the world around us.  Can we look at nature in new ways?  Is it possible to build new narratives and new frameworks for understanding and relating to the planet we inhabit?  This week we'll attempt to break down some of the tidy categories that limit our thinking, and explore some interesting cases for urban ecology.

The most heated culture wars of the past few decades have had a polarizing effect. They play out in predictable patterns, usually staged from extreme opposite ends of the battle field: Exxon vs. Greenpeace, Nike vs. Adbusters, Taiji vs. Rick O’Barry, “Job Creators” vs. “Environmentalists”, City vs. Nature.  These are the narratives that stick, and eventually the narratives that delude. They seem to offer two mutually exclusive choices-either we can join the team that exploits in the name of progress and profit, or join the team focused on carefully erasing the traces of our presence. This oversimplification is perhaps unfair but it does illustrate the common fallacy at both ends. Both approaches relegate humans and nature to irreconcilably separate categories, and it’s arguable that neither has served us very well.  

Many contemporary designers, entrepreneurs, and everyday citizens have begun to explore a much more nuanced and interesting grey area, often referred to as "Ecological Urbanism." They often look to the dynamic and complex organization of cities as a bridge to new understandings and possibilities.  The term “Urban Ecology”, broadly defined, allows us to consider the urban context not as an assemblage of gridded streets and mute concrete, but as a living organism, overlaid with social, biological, cultural, and economic vectors. Looking at the city as an ecology releases us from our sentimental ideas about what nature ought to look like.  In the city, nature is just as much about rivers, lakes and trees, as it is about the daily, messy, friction filled lives of the cities’ inhabitants.  The frantic footsteps of a single mother on her way to her second job, the curious lifecycle of a discarded cigarette, the improvised nesting habits of escapee pet parrots.  

There has been a lot of theory written on this subject.  Perhaps too much.  But what does ecological urbanism look like in practice?  We’re going to share some of our favorites examples here. We'd also love to hear about your favorites. Please let us know in the comments!  We'll be back next week to wrap up our four part "Be Wilder" series with some final conclusions, questions and provocations.

 

 

The Plantagon An ambitious R&D company works with developers and cities to bring vertical food production into the heart of cities, where edible plants can be grown with a fraction of the space, resources, and pesticides and transportation required for traditional agriculture. 

The Plantagon

An ambitious R&D company works with developers and cities to bring vertical food production into the heart of cities, where edible plants can be grown with a fraction of the space, resources, and pesticides and transportation required for traditional agriculture. 

Congress Avenue Bat Bridge

When its structural elements turned out to be a perfect summer habitat for the Mexican Free-Tailed Bat, the Congress Ave. Bridge in Austin, TX also became a favorite summer spectacle for locals and tourists alike, bringing in millions of dollars in related revenue to the city. 

 

Evo Farm

Develops large scale Aquaponics systems that efficiently grow fish and plants in symbiosis, with a focus on large scale urban applications.

The Highline Formerly an underutilized elevated railway in a state of disrepair, it was converted (with the help of local community advocacy) into one of the most vibrant public spaces in Manhattan. 

The Highline

Formerly an underutilized elevated railway in a state of disrepair, it was converted (with the help of local community advocacy) into one of the most vibrant public spaces in Manhattan. 

Window Farms An open source community that is ever-improving the DIY technology of hydroponic window farms. 

Window Farms

An open source community that is ever-improving the DIY technology of hydroponic window farms. 

Wildlife Crossings

Built across a growing number of freeways from Banff to San Bernardino, wildlife crossings provide critical (man made) moments of continuity and safe passage between habitats and ecologies.

The Beacon Hill Food Forest Currently being developed for Seattle, this project will instrumentalize and transform an existing public space to create a series of edible gardens open to all.

The Beacon Hill Food Forest

Currently being developed for Seattle, this project will instrumentalize and transform an existing public space to create a series of edible gardens open to all.

Stalker A have been staging alternative interpretive city walks (and camping trips) around Rome and other cities since the mid 1990's 

Stalker

A have been staging alternative interpretive city walks (and camping trips) around Rome and other cities since the mid 1990's 

Lago ExSnia Created when an overeager mall developer accidentally drilled into the shallow water-table, this "pop-up" lake has become a hotspot for local biodiversity, and an informal public space fought for by local communities for decades.

Lago ExSnia

Created when an overeager mall developer accidentally drilled into the shallow water-table, this "pop-up" lake has become a hotspot for local biodiversity, and an informal public space fought for by local communities for decades.

Eat The Invaders An online resource dedicated to empowering curious foodies to seek, collect and prepare weeds and other invasive species. 

Eat The Invaders

An online resource dedicated to empowering curious foodies to seek, collect and prepare weeds and other invasive species. 





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